The new generation of hunters includes more women and young people. Some pick up their rifles out of a desire to trace their food to the source and create connections with the animals that provide their sustenance. As the demographics change, the field begins to reinvent itself.
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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jacki Lyden in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. Stalking and killing one's prey is one of the world's oldest acts. In modern culture, hunting has been dominated by a stereotype of burly men in camouflage who view the pastime mostly as a sport. But a new, younger generation of hunters has started shooting not as a recreational activity but more as an ethical method of connecting with the source of their sustenance. And more women are entering the sport, changing the shape of the industry, literally.
Hunters new and old, what's changed with you? Tell us your story. Our number is 800-989-8255. We want to hear from some hunters. Our email address is email@example.com, and you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And later in this program, we're going to talk about the Hindu holiday of Diwali, but first we're going to speak to Lily Raff McCaulau, who was a 20-something New Yorker who left the city life behind to move to rural Oregon a few years back. Craving a closer connection to her food source, she took up hunting, and she joins us now from a studio in Bend, Oregon. Welcome, Lily.
LILY RAFF MCCAULAU: Hi, thanks for having me.
LYDEN: Your book is called "Call of the Mild: Learning How to Eat What You Have Shot."
MCCAULAU: Yes, it is. It's been quite an experience.
LYDEN: Could you please tell us about your first kill?
MCCAULAU: The first time I ever shot something, it was part of a workshop that was put on by the state of Oregon. It was specifically geared toward women. It was part of an effort that actually I think all 50 states have programs geared towards recruiting women into hunting and fishing. And it was a pheasant-hunting workshop on public land. There were about 20 women.
And we split up into little groups, and we had volunteers who all happened to be men who were experienced hunters and had well-trained hunting dogs with us. I was incredible nervous. I had very little experience with a gun, although I had recently purchased a shotgun and done some practicing. And I was really worried that I wouldn't have it in me to take a shot, that if I did kill something I would just be overwhelmed with regret. But the day lagged on, and we were hiking around, and other women in my group were successfully shooting pheasants, and I started to really want to get one myself. And toward the end of the day, the dog that we were working with found another pheasant and held it on point.
And there was one other woman who hadn't shot a bird. So the two of us went up kind of close to where the dog was holding the bird, and when the bird flushed, it flew up in the air. We both took a shot and killed the bird. And I was really shocked by my reaction because I was expecting to just be wracked with guilt and really confused about what had just happened. And instead, I was euphoric. I couldn't believe that I had it in me and that I'd done it. I felt empowered and proud and amazed and relieved.
LYDEN: So you felt this kind of - this sort of primal release going on about taking game this way, about shooting the bird?
MCCAULAU: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I'd been - I had made the decision to start learning how to hunt a year earlier. So I had already put in a lot of time. I had taken a hunter safety class. I had done a lot of research. I had purchased a gun and spent a lot of time at the range practicing shooting it.
LYDEN: What was your motivation there, Lily?
MCCAULAU: It was a combination of different things. I had recently moved to this rural area, and I was interested in kind of connecting to the rural way of life. I had been a meat-eater all my life, and I was really interested in, you know, better understanding what I had been doing by eating animals my whole life.
I also had recently learned how to fly-fish and really enjoyed that activity in part because it taught me how to read rivers in this whole new way. I was - I just felt like it gave me this new understanding of and appreciation of an entire ecosystem. And I had hoped that with hunting, I would learn to read landscapes in that same way.
It's a really different thing to understand an ecosystem to the point where you can participate in it rather than just observe it from afar.
LYDEN: I just want more quick question for you before we take a call. Did you dress that first pheasant? Did you eat it? Did you...
MCCAULAU: I did, yes. I have field dressed and butchered everything that I've shot by myself, yeah. Well, in the case of the big game, I've had help from other people, but I've done it personally, yes.
LYDEN: Let's take a call from another hunter here, and this is Beth(ph), who's calling from San Andreas, California. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Beth.
BETH: Good morning. I wanted to call in because I grew up in a hunting family. I live in a hunting community. And we don't waste any of the meat on the animal. We're very humane. We do quick kills, that's an absolute must. And I also wanted to point out that we don't buy any meat at the store. So we don't get any, you know, hormone meats or anything into our systems.
And we took the Ducks Unlimited hunting gun safety course years ago, and I think that's a good start for people who want to learn about how to handle firearms because I think that's really important. I think sometimes people, like you said, think of big, burly men and stuff. Most of the hunters I hang out with are women, and we do - we do elk, we do deer, we do pheasant and duck. And we dress out our own kill, and it's a healthy lifestyle, and we probably eat far less meat than the average American.
LYDEN: All right, well, thank you very much for that comment, Beth. Let's bring in another guest. We're speaking with Anthony Licata, and he's the editor-in-chief of Field & Stream magazine. And he joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
ANTHONY LICATA: Thanks for having me, Jacki.
LYDEN: Field & Stream, and you know, it was long in our house in Wisconsin. My grandfather is a lifelong hunter. I went on hunting with him as a child, didn't ever think I'd really be speaking to someone from Field & Stream today.
LYDEN: How is hunting changing?
LICATA: Well, I think Lily's touched on it a little bit, and one of the things - ways that hunting is changing is it's almost as if the culture has caught up to hunting a little bit. You know, we all know how important it is for people now, the whole locavore movement, to know where their food comes from.
And a little bit of a yearning for a connection for something that's a little more authentic, and that's something that hunters have been doing for generations, as your caller pointed out. You know, most hunters, don't get me wrong, they wouldn't describe themselves as locavore, you know, that's kind of a...
LYDEN: Probably not, not in Wisconsin, I don't think, yeah, my brother has ever used that word.
LICATA: Right, right, that's a word that, you know, you'll hear maybe in more urban areas, but that's exactly what they do. And something as personally important and complicated as hunting, it's not easy to pin down one reason why people do it. They do it for the sport, yes, it's fun, but the sport is this connection to the habitat and the wildlife that you just don't get another way, as Lily explained.
They also do it to be with family and friends, it's tradition, but they also very much do it for food, as the caller described. Hunters traditionally, they fill their freezer. They serve as much wild meat as they can to their families, and, you know, whenever they do, it's a special meal.
So the way hunting's changing a little bit, as I said, it's almost like the culture's caught up to it a little bit, and you have people who normally would not think about hunting or, you know, would have some preconceived notions about it.
You know, the food has been one way that their eyes have been opened, and they realize oh, OK, this is what it's about. It's not some big macho thing where you're trying to prove your ego out against the world. It's a way not only to get organic, wild, healthy meat, but it's also a way to have this deeper connection with a place and with the natural world.
LYDEN: Lily, I'd like to ask you: How has the hunting community there reacted to you as a young female hunter, someone new to it all?
MCCAULAU: People have been really supportive. I'm certainly not the only, you know, woman in my late 20s, early 30s who's taken up hunting. So I would say I get a lot more surprised looks from non-hunters who learn that I'm a hunter than from other hunters who learn that I'm a hunter.
Women are one of, if not the, fastest growing demographics of hunters right now in the country. So it's not all that surprising to people.
LYDEN: All right, thank you.
LICATA: It has actually - if I could just butt in here.
LYDEN: Yeah, great.
LICATA: It has increased over 75, the number of women hunters, over the last five years. So it is absolutely one of the - the fastest growing segment of hunters.
LYDEN: Anthony, do you think that's partly because equipment has gotten lighter and easier to work with?
LICATA: That's a little bit. You know, certainly it's been hard for women to get clothing, gear tailored just for them, and some companies are catching up. They see women want to be a part of it, and they're making more and better equipment tailored to them.
And I think a lot of women have realized that hunters are very welcoming, and, you know, people worry - Lily could speak to this better than I could, but I know in my interactions with women hunters in camp, maybe they've been worried about oh, I'm going to be with all these guys, and they're going to be intimidating and make me feel like I don't know anything. And I haven't come across that.
I mean, sure, once in a while you'll have somebody who's trying to maybe impress someone and show how much they know, but for the most part, hunters want more people in their sports. They love it, they want it to share it with others, and they're very welcoming.
LYDEN: Let's take a call from Garret(ph), who is calling from Taos, New Mexico. Hello there, Garret.
GARRET: How are you today?
GARRET: You know, it's interesting, you guys were talking about connection to place. I live in Taos, New Mexico, and, you know, we have a 11,000-year history of hunting in the culture here. And, you know, it's not just a sport for a lot of people that live here, it's a cultural value. And it's part of people's lives. It's an integral part of traditional land use. And it's one of the most powerful things that we have in New Mexico.
LYDEN: Are you a hunter, Garret?
GARRET: I am. I'm eating elk enchiladas as we speak.
GARRET: So, and I love the fact that we're bringing women into the equation because I have a six-year-old daughter, and I'm introducing her gently to hunting. And a lot of my friends are, you know, eighth- and ninth-generation Hispanic hunters. A good friend of mine, Melissa Castillas(ph), went archery hunting with her daughter, who's also six years old, and took her. And they're handing on these traditions to their daughters.
And I love the connection-to-place discussion and also this whole idea that it's a cultural value and not just sort of this senseless sport that it's often been betrayed as.
LYDEN: OK, thank you for that, Garret. We're talking with you and also hunter Lily Raff McCaulau and Anthony Licata of Field & Stream magazine. If you hunt, we want to hear from you about what's changed. Our number is 800-989-8255. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be back with more in just a minute. I'm Jacki Lyden, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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LYDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. From Elmer Fudd to Crocodile Dundee, hunters in popular culture haven't exactly enjoyed a distinguished reputation. And if they're what you think about when you think about hunters, you might be surprised by how things look these days.
Hunters are younger, and there's a lot more pink on everything from Remington rifles to mossy oak camouflage. If you're a longtime hunter or a new one, what's changed? Tell us your story. Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Our send us an email, email@example.com, and you can find us on Twitter, @totn.
Lily Raff McCaulau and Anthony Licata are my guests. Lily is the author of "Call of the Mild: Learning To Hunt My Own Dinner," and Anthony is editor-in-chief of Field & Stream magazine. We're going to take a call now from Stephanie(ph), Stephanie, you are joining us from Muleshoe, Texas, is that it?
STEPHANIE: I am. I'm actually driving. I live in New Mexico, as well as your previous caller.
LYDEN: Well, I hope you pulled over to talk to us.
LYDEN: So you - what is going on with you? Are you a new hunter?
STEPHANIE: I am a new hunter. I went elk hunting for the first time. I'm actually originally an Oregonian, and I consider myself a redneck hippie. And I love that you have someone from Oregon on your show today.
LYDEN: Well, a transplant from New York, but Lily's been there a while. What did you think - you know, what drew you? You say you're relatively new to this, Stephanie. Why did you decide to take the plunge, so to speak?
STEPHANIE: I think it's really important. We're so removed from the agricultural roots that most people wouldn't even know how to take of their family if something horrible were to happen. I think it's really important that you know how to go out, how to get food for yourself, how to get food for your family, your neighbors, if necessary.
Hunting is so different in so many places that I just think it's really important that people get out there and learn about it.
LYDEN: Lily, do you buy meat any longer at the grocery store?
MCCAULAU: I still buy meat. I - like one of your previous callers said, I actually eat a lot less meat than I did before I started hunting, but I don't only eat meat that I hunt. I'm very careful about where I buy the meat from, though. So I try to buy - I buy meat that's been raised locally, on a small farm, and been treated well, basically had what I consider a good, humane life and death.
It's more expensive, but I just eat meat a couple times a week now. So it works out.
LYDEN: I'm just curious from both of you, what reactions do you get when you tell people you're a hunter? Lily, you can start. Do people assume you're an NRA member, for example?
MCCAULAU: Sometimes, yeah. I get a - I'm not an NRA member, no. I get a pretty wide range of reactions. A lot of urban people who maybe don't know any hunters personally, their image of hunting - and I say this as somebody who used to fit that bill, so I didn't know any hunters, and my image of hunters came mainly from, you know, popular culture, movies like "Bambi" and things like that, which are really inaccurate portrayals of hunters and hunting.
So I think sometimes people meet me and hear that I'm a hunter, and they're really surprised because I don't fit that stereotype. I'm not that into guns. I'm not an NRA member. Guns are, for me, just a tool that I use to hunt. I'm not particularly fascinated with them or in love with them.
LYDEN: How about you, Stephanie? What reaction do you get when you tell people you're a hunter?
STEPHANIE: Frankly, guys love chicks with guns has been my experience.
STEPHANIE: There's something about a woman who knows how to hunt, who knows how to handle weapons. I have had absolutely nothing but positive experiences, in fact just recently called my husband while he was deployed and said: Honey, can I buy a gun? It's pink. And he was thrilled.
LYDEN: Wow, really, all right. Well, are you - have you been hunting, Anthony Licata?
LICATA: Yes, I've been...
LYDEN: You'd think it would go with the job.
LICATA: Yes, of course, yeah, I've been a hunter my whole life. I was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, where it was very common for everybody to hunt, and I'll say even then, many of the - when I was a kid, many of the girls hunted, as well. It was a very common family activity.
But Field & Stream magazine is based out of New York City, and I've lived here for 10 years now, and I've seen some attitudes change from hunting. When I would tell people what I did or that I was a hunter, you would see many people, you know, they have preconceived notions. They don't like - they immediately don't like it.
But, you know, usually what I would do is I would invite them over for a meal and serve them some wild game, and that would usually convert them very quickly. But I have seen in recent years more acceptance of it. It crossed people who may not hunt, may not know anybody who hunts, but we talked about the food thing a little earlier, and I think there's been other aspects of this.
I mean, you look how the culture's looking for things that are maybe - you know, you'd call a throwback. But it's a little more authentic. It's a way to do something physical or with your hands, whether that's canning food or knitting or different trends like that that we've all seen. I think people are more open to activities like that that they weren't 10 years ago.
LYDEN: Absolutely, all of Brooklyn and a lot of other places, as well. Let's take another call here and speak to Dan(ph), who is calling from Charlotte, North Carolina. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Dan.
DAN: Thanks very much. Can you hear me OK?
LYDEN: Yeah, really well.
DAN: Good. I love to hunt for many of the same reasons that have been discussed. You know, it's wonderful meat. Believe it or not, bear is wonderful meat, better than beef.
DAN: But I'm going to have to admit to you something that's just as addictive for me. I'm one of those guys who used to like to jump out of airplanes and things like that. And the reason that I hunt and the reason that my son hunts is the thrill, quite literally, of being - like meeting and controlling the danger. We hunt with a bow only, on the ground, not in a tree, and we hunt dangerous game.
We typically hunt black bear. I've been attacked by a black bear and killed one at 14 feet on the run. And I've been able to teach my son to focus and, you know, not to not be afraid but to focus and do what you've got to do, be in control of yourself. So as a practical skill, that focus and concentration and confidence in your own skill is something that I've been able to communicate to him, and I've always enjoyed doing it myself, so...
LYDEN: But, you know, Dan, this is one of those statements that opens so many more questions. I mean, that's really an extreme, and you killed the bear at so many feet I assume not with a bow and arrow, by the way.
DAN: No, no, 14 feet, one-four.
LYDEN: But with a shotgun or with a bow and arrow?
DAN: No, I don't own a firearm. I wouldn't mind having a firearm. I just, when I hunt, I hunt with a bow.
LYDEN: Well, that must concentrate the mind wonderfully. How old is your son?
DAN: Right now he's 17. He encountered a bear at 13. He's never taken a bear, but he encountered a bear, and I was just - I've always been proud of the fact that he was happy to get up out of his blind on the ground and slowly creep toward the bear, knowing what to do, and although the bear did run off. We were not successful in that hunt. What we were successful at was his focus, concentration and frankly bravery for a 13-year-old to approach a bear because the bear was out of ethical range.
He was about 50 yards away, maybe 45, and we just might have killed him that way, but - with a bow, but it's not an ethical shot. So we needed to get within about 30 yards.
LYDEN: And just one last question: What is bear season there in North Carolina, from when to when?
DAN: For some reason they split it into two pieces. It has - let's see it's the 17th of November it ends, and then it begins again in December for one more roughly two-week period. And they're very, very different bears in the east versus the west of the state. In the east of the state, many people aren't aware that there is huge wilderness and huge tracts.
It's because of the swamplands. A lot of those bears out there have never seen a human. They're not afraid of humans. And they're very irritable towards the winter because they are unable to hibernate, it's not cold enough, but they feel this urge to hibernate, and, you know, they just keep eating through the winter. And they're pretty dangerous.
LYDEN: All right, well, thank you Dan. Let's get some more calls. And Anthony, are you getting a lot of bear hunters, and Lily, are you eager to pursue one?
LICATA: You know, there's certainly a number of bear hunters out there, but I think the caller Dan touched on something broader, and that thrill and adventure and excitement. And that's not something that we should shy away from when we talk about hunting.
LICATA: Now not everybody will take it to Dan's extreme, you know, stalking a black bear on the ground with a bow. But the fact is, one of the things that attracts people to hunting is it takes you out into the wilderness, into wild places to not only connect with these animals and these landscapes and read the land the way Lily talked about, but there's a real sense of adventure. And even if that adventure is as small as your hiking to your deer stand, you know, before the sunrise, in the dark, on the mountain and maybe you're not even a mile from the road. But still, how many of us in our day-to-day lives are out there hiking to the woods in the dark, climbing a mountain?
And it's that visceral connection with wild animals and wild places that gives a real thrill and that is, without a doubt, one of the things that attracts me to hunting, and that I get from it that I don't get from other activities.
LYDEN: You know, I'd like to ask either of you, do you see a distinction between - and anybody out there - hunting for the thrill of it, something that you're not going to eat, like a sandhill crane, for example, or a wolf, as opposed to an animal that you can put on the table? Lily.
MCCAULAU: I do see a distinction. I'm personally only comfortable hunting something that I'm going to eat. I'd like to add really quickly, though, that that last caller, Dan, also touched on something that even if - I've never had a hunting experience anywhere near as scary as what he was talking about. But all of my hunts have really worked - there's a mental skill involved in hunting that is really, I think, kind of an - maybe a lost art, but also just unusual in modern life, to really focus on using all of your senses to stay really alert for long periods of time.
There's this sweet spot between being so hyper-alert that you just get exhausted after, you know, 15 minutes and kind of shutting down and not paying enough attention that you might miss, you know, a clue that an animal is in the vicinity. So it's a real mental skill going out hunting.
LICATA: That's an important point, I think, that Lily makes. It's true, and I think that is another thing that draws people to it. Look, we're all wired and connected and busy and multitasking all the time, looking at our phones. And to be forced in the wild away from that stuff and have to sit still for a long time or stalk slowly or notice any little change in the forest is not a skill we use very much. And it's very exciting to tap into that.
LYDEN: Let's just get another call in here quickly if we can. Greg is calling from Pocatello, Idaho. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Greg.
GREG: Hi. Thanks for having me.
LYDEN: You're welcome. Thanks for being here.
GREG: I'm so excited that you guys are talking about hunting. I just wanted to make the point that we're so fortunate here in the United States - North America to have the opportunities that we do. Not everywhere in the world can people hunt. And, you know, two important things we have; the idea that game animals are owned by the citizens and not by the government, which allows us to hunt them; and we also have this incredible system of public lands, which gives us an opportunity, even if you're not rich to be able to hunt. And because of those two things, we have conserved a really incredible, intact ecosystem. I think you can't talk about one without talking about the other.
LYDEN: Good points, Greg. We're not poaching. By the way, you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
I just want to touch personally for a moment, Anthony and Lily, on the communal aspect of hunting. I have to say I grew in a hunting family with a professional hunting guide of a grandfather. He ate everything he hunted, and I think many - some of them were legal and some of them were not and some of them people wouldn't necessarily want to eat, like a mud hen or a muskrat. And I've been at a game feast in Pennsylvania and again back in Wisconsin, and every year, my hometown in Delafield has a raccoon roast, which I have to say, I draw the line, I've never been to. But that has been going on for 60 years now. And the lady who organizes it is 92. And I talk about it in another program once that people called up and said, when is it and where can I - how can I get there?
MCCAULAU: I was just going to ask you that.
LYDEN: No, I haven't tasted the raccoon, have you?
MCCAULAU: No, I haven't.
LICATA: I have not.
LYDEN: I hope I haven't started anything.
MCCAULAU: I'd be thrilled to try it though.
LYDEN: Let's get a couple more calls in before we have to say goodbye. Caitlin(ph) is calling from Winfield, Kansas. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: Hi. Thank you for taking my call.
LYDEN: You're welcome. So are you a hunter?
CAITLIN: Yes, actually I am. And I was just wanting to say that I grew up hunting and in a hunting family. And I shot my first turkey when I was in sixth grade with my mother. And then throughout middle school and high school, I sort of lost interest in hunting. But about three, four years ago, I approached my parents again, who have always been hunters and have been deer hunters for quite some time and harvest year every year, and that's where we get a lot of our meat. And so I've been deer hunting for about three years. And for me, I find hunting to be such a nice, quiet, meditative time and even a bonding experience depending on, you know, who it's with. I usually either hunt with my dad or my mother. And I have three small kids. I have a six-year-old, a four-year-old and a baby. So...
LYDEN: The baby, I hope you leave at home.
CAITLIN: Yes. Well...
LYDEN: And maybe the little kids too.
CAITLIN: I plan - I am planning on probably trying to work something out with having the baby nearby but not out with us in the deer stand. So...
LYDEN: All right. Thank you for that call, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: All right. Thank you so much.
LYDEN: Lily, we're - Thanksgiving is next week. Are you going to be obtaining your feast from the field?
MCCAULAU: I wish I were going to be. No. I haven't been doing as much hunting this fall as I would have like.
LYDEN: You're not promoting your book.
MCCAULAU: I have been, yes. And I have a baby also. So he's cut into my hunting time considerably.
LYDEN: How about you, Anthony?
LICATA: Yes, I've been turkey hunting but have not gotten a turkey yet this fall. But I do have a buck white - black-tailed buck that I hunted in Alaska a couple of weeks ago in my freezer ready for a meal on Thanksgiving.
LYDEN: You know, we have a flock of wild turkeys at home in Wisconsin. You know, I'm just - I'm going home Saturday, and I'm just thinking maybe I could take a peashooter or something like that...
LYDEN: ...get really lucky. I just sort of enjoy seeing them around. Well, thank you both so very much. Lily Raff...
MCCAULAU: Thanks for having me.
LYDEN: You're very, very welcome, Lily. Lily Raff McCaulau, she's the author of "Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner," and she spoke with us from a studio in Bend, Oregon. Anthony Licata is the editor-in-chief of Field and Stream magazine. He spoke with us from our own New York bureau. I want you both to have a happy Thanksgiving and a healthy feast.
LICATA: Thank you, Jacki.
MCCAULAU: Thanks. You, too, Jacki.
LYDEN: And next up, colorful fireworks are sparkling over Diwali celebrations around the world. We'll learn more about the festival of lights after a quick break. I'm Jacki Lyden, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.